04 May 2013

Bokujû (墨汁)

This is an interesting ink. A puzzling one.

The label does say this ink is for fountain pens, but should it not be clear enough, there is also an obvious figure of a fountain pen. A Pilot, of course. The metal ring attached to the string is a common feature among old Japanese inkwells, but I confess my ignorance about its purpose.

We, pen aficionados, are very aware of the dangers of using inks not specifically designed for fountain pens. India ink, for instance, contains shellac –a bioadhesive that would easily clog the ink feed of any fountain pen.

In East Asia the basic reference of ink is different. Sumi ink (墨) is traditionally made of vegetable soot and animal glue. It is presented in the form of sticks, and to make the actual ink these sticks have to be ground against a stone (suzuri, 硯) in combination with water. The ink, now called bokujû (墨汁), is formed by the suspension of the powder removed from the ink stick in the water. This is the ink used in traditional calligraphy, shodô (書道) in Japanese, whose basic instrument is the brush instead of the stylus.

The inscription on the lid reads Special ink Pilot 特製墨汁パイロット. On the center, the company logo.

Nothing can I say about whether the use of this ink was a long time goal of Japanese pen companies. As of today, Platinum’s Carbon ink and Sailor’s Kiwa-guro simulate the idea of bokujû—particles in suspension in water. Pilot´s approach is just limited to the name of one the inks of the Iroshizuku line: Take-sumi (竹炭), although in this case, sumi is written as 炭, meaning coal, instead of 墨, ink. Both ideograms can be read in the same way—sumi (すみ).

Then, what about this old inkwell? The label clearly (well, sort of) says it contained bokujû—that is, the already prepared ink after grinding the ink stick—and that it is for fountain pens. On the back, the manufacturer, Namiki Seisakusho, explains that only after developing some procedures, which involved filtration, it was safe to use bokujû in fountain pens.

The explanations to justify the uniqueness of the ink.

Was it? Hard to say. However, a more relevant question is whether this was a real carbon ink, a precedent of the modern nanopigmented inks made by Sailor and Platinum. Interestingly enough, Pilot does not produce any such ink right now.

This ink dates back from the 1920s, and chemical analysis are in order. But few people might really care.

My thanks to Mr. Yamada, who also wrote on this ink for his blog, including a couple of samples on paper.

Pilot Capless, stub nib (Shimizu Seisakusho) – Waterman Mysterious Blue

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, May 4th, 2013
etiquetas: tinta, Pilot, Sailor, Platinum, Japón, caligrafía, pincel


Unknown said...

Does the ring fit on the cork part of the cap? I wonder if it's not to assist in the prevention of losing the cap.

Bruno Taut said...

Wow, Julie B--you are fast!

That is a good explanation. In some cases, the ring is not closed, which would help in those cases in which the cork expanded.

Thanks for passing by and commenting.


Unknown said...

Beautiful, and what a wonderful coincidence. I was just preparing to sit down and grind some ink :)

This looks like quite the interesting ink.

Thank you for the post :-)

Bruno Taut said...

Thanks, Michel de Montreal, for passing by and commenting.

This ink is indeed interesting and I wonder how it would behave if used with a brush. I do not think I would dare to ink any pen with it.

How are your shodô abilities?



Unknown said...

To be honest, I'm not that good.
I took a workshop with Kazuaki Tanahashi a while ago (he was visiting the zen center I go to around here) and I got into it and started practicing, but it's been a while since i've picked up the brush again.
I'm looking for places that offer courses around here, Hopefully I'll pick it back up, it's such a wonderful art :)

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